House Panel Denounces E.P.A. Actions in Flint Crisis

April 7, 2016
In The News

March 15, 2016

By Abby Goodnough 

The New York Times 

WASHINGTON — Members of a congressional oversight committee excoriated a former Environmental Protection Agency official on Tuesday for not responding more forcefully when she learned last year that Flint, Mich., was not adding a chemical to its new water supply that would have prevented the city’s pipes from corroding and leaching lead. The former official, Susan Hedman, testified that limited enforcement options had kept her from acting more aggressively to order corrosion control, saying, “I don’t think E.P.A. did anything wrong, but I do believe we could have done more.”

But committee members from both parties reacted furiously to her explanation, casting Ms. Hedman, who resigned in January as director of the E.P.A. regional office in charge of Michigan, as one of the primary villains in Flint’s water crisis and heaping contempt on her for more than four hours. “There’s a special place in hell for actions like this,” said Representative Earl L. Carter, a Georgia Republican known as Buddy, referring to the fact that for months after Ms. Hedman learned about the lack of corrosion control in Flint, neither the E.P.A. nor any other governmental agency warned residents that their water was unsafe. The hearing was the first time that several prominent figures in the water crisis — Ms. Hedman; Darnell Earley, the state-appointed emergency manager of Flint at the time of the water switch; and Dayne Walling, the city’s former mayor — had testified publicly about their roles.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform used the hearing to try to answer a question that has endured despite two previous congressional hearings, several investigations and the release of thousands of government emails: why so many levels of government failed to take action for so long, ignoring warning signs, while Flint residents were being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. The hearing focused heavily on a June 2015 internal preliminary report by an E.P.A. scientist, which raised alarms about extremely high lead levels at one resident’s home, Flint’s methods of testing for lead in water and its lack of corrosion control. After the scientist, Miguel Del Toral, wrote the report, nearly six more months passed before the city added chemicals to the water supply to prevent pipe corrosion, a lapse that committee members from both sides of the aisle said Ms. Hedman should have and could have prevented. “Why, in July or August, didn’t you just stand up and scream, stop this?” said Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California. “To me, this is negligence bordering on deliberate indifference.”

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